The Royals wrap up their short road trip with their second visit of the year to Detroit to take on the second place Tigers. If you believe the Royals still have a shot at the postseason, this is a huge series as the Royals are behind the Tigers for both the division and one of the American League wild card spots. If you don’t believe the Royals have a chance at the playoffs, it’s fun to play spoiler. Either way, there’s something on the line here. The Royals have done well against Detroit this year, going 6-4 with a +18 run differential. They visited Detroit for the first time right out of the break, though, and lost two of three.
This team can really hit. They’re dealing with some injuries right now with Nick Castellanos, Jose Iglesias and Cameron Maybin on the disabled list, but they still have four healthy hitters having very good to great years and that doesn’t even include Justin Upton who is having a bad year, but is capable of going off at any moment. The bench is a little thin, but the stars of the offense are so good that it doesn’t really matter all that much.
Here’s what the offense has done over the last month or so:
Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey are on the disabled list, but the Tigers have gotten such great contributions from Michael Fulmer and Justin Verlander that have helped them to be successful. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the rotation is up and down. Anibal Sanchez has had a terrible season while Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd are young and come with all the typical caveats of young pitchers.
Starters the last month:
This isn’t the Tigers bullpen of old, but it’s still not what you’d call a good bullpen. Francisco Rodriguez is beyond vulnerable, but is set up pretty well by Alex Wilson and Kyle Ryan at least. They do have some good arms in the bullpen who have the ability to be good, but they just don’t get it done very consistently, which is a problem and what I assume will ultimately keep them from making the playoffs.
Their relievers the last month:
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Game 1, Monday: Ian Kennedy vs. Daniel Norris
Norris was acquired by the Tigers as part of the David Price deal and has a solid big league line with a sub-3.00 ERA in his career along with a decent handful of starts with the Tigers since being acquired. He’s spent a fair amount of time in the minors this year, though, and wasn’t great there, so it’s worth wondering just how good he actually is. The potential is most definitely there, and it’s hard to argue with better than a strikeout per inning with limited walks, but there’s still a question of what exactly he is and can be, and that likely won’t be answered against a sputtering offense like the Royals have. He made one start against the Royals last year, going 6.1 innings with four runs (three earned) allowed. He got a no decision.
Three things to watch for against Norris:
- Norris throw a lot of different pitches with his four-seam fastball his most prolific. He throws it around 93 MPH and more than 40 percent of the time. He also throws a sinker, changeup, slider and curve, so it’s hard to get into a rhythm against him with all five pitches coming at least 10 percent of the time. The fastball has been effective, but his sinker, change and slider have been crushed.
- In his career, Norris has simply worn down as the game has progressed. He does a nice job of getting out of the gate, but as he throws pitches 1-25, then 26-50, etc., he gives up a little more with his OPS allowed going from .704 to .746 to .838 to .847. So the point here is to be patient. If they don’t get to him early, there’s still time.
- He has a big reverse platoon split in his career with an OPS of .857 allowed to lefties and just .735 to righties. Only five Royals have plate appearances against Norris, but Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar all have extra base hits. I’m not sure why, but I think this is a good matchup for Cheslor Cuthbert.
Kennedy gets the nod to start the series, and he’s been darn good lately. He has a 3.91 ERA on the season, which is good for an ERA+ of 113. He has a 0.93 ERA in 19.1 innings in his last three starts with just one home run allowed in that time. He mentioned he made an adjustment around the break, and it seems to be paying off now as he’s having a really solid season for the Royals. He’s 0-3 with a 4.34 ERA in five career starts against the Tigers and has a 2.31 ERA in two starts against them this year. Kinsler, Cabrera and Upton have all had their way with Kennedy while he’s pretty much kept the other hitters under control.
First Pitch Temperature: 77° F
Wind: S at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Cloudy
Precipitation: 70% chance of showers/thunderstorms
Game 2, Tuesday: Danny Duffy vs. Justin Verlander
There was a time when it looked like Verlander was done as an elite starting pitcher. Age and injuries seemed to have taken their toll on the former Cy Young winner. He posted a 4.54 ERA in 2014 and then missed the first part of last season before struggling in his return. He kind of quietly turned it around later in the season, but started this year rather slowly as well, leading many (myself included) to wonder if that late season run was a bit of a mirage. It wasn’t. He has a 2.58 ERA in his last 18 starts with better than a strikeout per inning and limited walks. He’s a different pitcher than he once was, but he’s found a way to be very, very good again. He’s 22-8 with a 3.21 ERA in 40 career starts against the Royals. This year, he’s 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in two starts.
Three things to watch for against Verlander:
- His velocity has bounced back a bit this year, which has allowed him to not have to make a huge adjustment. He still throws the fastball more than 55 percent of the time, and it’s averaging around 94 MPH with good movement. He also throws a slider, curve and change predominantly, and all can be very good. His changeup is a good pitch, but when he does leave it over the plate, it can be very hittable, so that’s something for hitters to watch out for.
- Like many pitchers, getting to Verlander is the first is important, as he really gets better the second time through the order and really until the late innings. What’s interesting is when hitters end the at bat on the first pitch, they’re hitting .375 with an .833 SLG in 53 plate appearances. That’s quite amazing for a guy with his stuff.
- He’s been a little better against lefties this season, but has a relatively small platoon split. Salvador Perez has crushed him historically with a .469/.462/.755 career line against him. Paulo Orlando has a double and a triple against Verlander, and Kendrys Morales has a .900 OPS and a couple homers as well. Cain, Hosmer and Alex Gordon all have homers against him, too.
Duffy pitching has become an event. He’s pretty much done everything this year but throw a shutout and throw a no-hitter, both of which could happen at any time, it seems like. After throwing his first career complete game, it’ll be interesting to see what Duffy does as the follow-up. All he’s done in his last nine starts is go 7-0 with a 2.33 ERA in better than seven innings pitched per start. He also has a 67:9 strikeout to walk ratio and seems to keep getting better and better. Oh, and if you’re worried about pitches thrown, he got through his complete game on 98 pitches. Yeah, he’s good. The Tigers have been trouble for him, though, as he’s 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA in four games (two starts) against them this year. He’s given up 39 runs all year, and 10 of them to the Tigers. Victor Martinez and Kinsler have hit him, but Duffy has actually done well against the rest.
First Pitch Temperature: 76° F
Wind: NW at 6-12 mph
Cloud Cover: Partly Sunny/Clear
Precipitation: 40% chance of showers/thunderstorms
Game 3, Wednesday: Yordano Ventura vs. Anibal Sanchez
This season has been a hu disaster for Sanchez. He was sent to the bullpen for a stint, but was needed back in the rotation after injuries, and he’s put together a 6.31 ERA in 27 games and 19 starts. After being in decline last year with an ERA just under 5.00, he’s really hit the bottom now. That said, before his last start that was just awful, he did throw two pretty good games in a row, so it shows he can still get it done. All together, he’s gone 1-4 with a 6.81 ERA in seven games since returning to the rotation. That’s less than good. There was a time when Sanchez dominated the Royals. That ended last season. Overall, he’s 6-4 with a 2.79 ERA in 12 games (11 starts) in his career against KC, but is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in five games (four starts) since the start of last year.
Three things to watch for against Sanchez:
- He throws his fastball the most at about 40 percent of the time, averaging 91-92 MPH on it. It doesn’t have a ton of movement on it, which means it’s very hittable. He also throws a sinker, changeup, slider and a curve, so there’s a lot of options if one isn’t working, but there have been times this year when they all haven’t been working. The slider and curve and the occasional cutter have all been hit very hard this season, but it seems like the Royals have a dickens of a time against off speed stuff.
- Sanchez has been especially bad once runners get on base. They have an easy enough time with a .276/.344/.464 line with the bases empty. Then with runners on, he allows a .326/.389/.554 line. And with runners in scoring position, it’s even worse. It’s a .330/.382/.633 line by opponents. That’s really, really bad. It’s impressively bad actually.
- Sanchez has been bad against lefties with an OPS allowed of .818, but against righties, he’s been terrible with a .913 OPS against him. Paulo Orlando and Drew Butera have hit him pretty well in very few plate appearances, but the rest of the Royals offense has struggled. Hosmer has one of the best OPSes in the lineup against him at .804, if that tells you anything.
Somehow I didn’t realize this until it was mentioned on the broadcast, but Ventura has gone seven straight starts allowing three runs or less. I wonder if this is the real beginning of his maturation process for him. He’s been pitching without his best stuff at times and still gutted through the games to keep the Royals in them. I’d love to see him start adding in the great stuff we know he has, but a 3.35 ERA in his last seven starts with more than six innings per start is pretty solid, especially with what Duffy’s been doing. He’s had a nice career against the Tigers, going 6-0 with a 3.18 ERA in nine games (eight starts). He’s been very good against them, and that includes a 2-0 record this year with a 1.96 ERA in three starts. J.D. Martinez has hit him very well, but Ventura has basically held down everyone else.
First Pitch Temperature: 80° F
Wind: SW at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Precipitation: 20% chance of showers/thunderstorms
I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I think the Royals take two of three from the Tigers. They have the Duffy start, which has been automatic lately (doesn’t mean it will be, of course) and they get to face a couple guys who their offense might be able to do some damage against. I might regret this prediction, but what can you do?